Shotgun Players’ ‘The Light’ an intense theatrical experience

Pear, Perspective theaters present a double-bill of solo shows

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Early on in Loy A. Webb’s two-character drama “The Light,” about a Black couple in Chicago in 2018, there’s a hint of what’s to come: Genesis, principal at a Black charter school, arrives home after work and tells her live-in boyfriend, Rashad, that one of the teachers apparently does not believe Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh (it’s 2018, remember?). Some of the faculty think Genesis should fire the teacher; Genesis thinks she shouldn’t; it’s against policy. Rashad, however, thinks she should.

It’s an innocuous enough argument, it passes quickly, and it’s only one among several that will erupt over the course of the 70-minute play, during which a marriage proposal will seriously derail.

And it hints at male-female misunderstandings to come. When a seemingly simple gift — Rashad presents Genesis with a pair of concert tickets — backfires, we’re in fraught territory indeed. What appears to be a light relationship romance is no such thing.

Shotgun Players made some excellent choices. The play, morally complex with plenty of room for humorous banter, takes place in real time. The two excellent actors (Leigh Rondon-Davis and Kenny Scott) are a couple in real life, so they perform live, for multiple cameras, in their own living room; and director Nailah Harper-Malveaux structures the ups and downs of their interaction with a fine-tuned ear for nuance and emotional expression.

Because it’s so well acted, it’s easy to find yourself switching allegiances as the tension escalates, especially since both characters have been so traumatized in the past. Scott’s Rashad is vulnerable, eager to please; Rondon-Davis’ Genesis is tough-minded, seemingly implacable. Unfamiliar with the playwright, I found myself alternately deciding the play must have been written by a man, then, no, by a woman and back again. (Loy A. Webb is a woman.)

This production is the type that’s the closest we’re likely to come to a real stage production any time soon. It’s visceral, immediate. It offers the rush that, for an audience, can be the earmark of a particularly intense theatrical experience.

“The Light” continues online through Dec. 13; tickets are $8-$40. Visit shotgunplayers.org.

Annamarie MacLeod appears in “Full Fathom Five,” presented by Pear Theatre and Perspective Theatre Company on a bill with another solo show, “Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey.” (Courtesy Pear Theatre)

Annamarie MacLeod appears in “Full Fathom Five,” presented by Pear Theatre and Perspective Theatre Company on a bill with another solo show, “Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey.” (Courtesy Pear Theatre)

“I am an actor,” declares Annamarie MacLeod at the beginning of her solo show, “Full Fathom Five.” Tongue-in-cheek, she repeats that mantra several times during the course of her hour-long monologue in which she explores, in theatrical and very actorly ways, her long struggle with post-partum depression, a struggle that led to drinking, suicidal impulses, psych meds and new discoveries.

Her play is one of two plays, streaming on video, that explore a woman’s journey; the double bill, umbrella-titled “The Path Back to Me,” is coproduced by two Bay Area companies, Pear Theatre and Perspective Theatre Company. (The other, “Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey,” is an ambitious two-hour solo by Debra Ann Byrd.)

MacLeod is indeed, as she declares, an actor, and in “Full Fathom Five” (the title references Shakespeare as well as the solace that MacLeod eventually finds underwater) those skills are on display in abundance.

Throughout, certainly, she’s an appealingly expressive figure, laughing at herself (“Drunk Mom is fun!”), feeling sorry for herself (“People don’t see me anymore, they see ‘Mama’”), articulating forbidden feelings (“I don’t love him,” she says of her new baby), smoothly inhabiting a few other characters as well.

But MacLeod’s actor-self overwhelms the writer-self — the self that actually lived through the pain and has chosen to share it. Under Debra Ann Byrd’s direction, MacLeod seems to have pre-selected an attitude for every phrase — she’s nothing if not specific. But that leaves no breathing room for spontaneity, for the kind of genuine, impulsive feeling that invites an audience into a private space.

I’d love to see a simpler, less arch, less self-consciously actorly version of her story, in which she delves deeper into the various moments of her journey and doesn’t try so hard to be clever.

“Full Fathom Five” continues online through Dec. 20. Tickets are $30-$37. Visit thepear.org.

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